Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Dear Teacher: You. Make. A. Difference.

May 14, 2012

When Appreciation is in a Rearview Mirror

I have been thinking a lot about small moments, the ones that seem insignificant to us as teachers, but have far-reaching impact on others. As you approach the victory lap of this school year, I’m not sure if the needed words will be said. I hope that students and parents, colleagues, and administrators will be eager to share all of the ways your words, your generosity, your spirit have shaped and defined those you work with. Just in case they forget to remember what your work has meant, let these thoughts be my admiration, my applause.

You. Make. A. Difference.

There’s no disputing what your presence means to your students. And you know this is true because they remind you if you already wore that shirt this week; because they notice exactly how many cups of coffee you drink each day; because they think they’ve run into a celebrity when they see you in a baseball cap at the grocery store. Your presence is part of their purpose. Each day that you challenge, question, nurture, or refuse to give up on them contributes to the person they are becoming.

 
As you approach the victory lap of this school year, I hope that students and parents, colleagues, and administrators will be eager to share all of the ways your words, your generosity, your spirit have shaped and defined those you work with.

Contributions can be funny, for they can blind us to what’s really important. We may think relevance will leave its mark in that amazing project we designed, when really it was the day we said, “Did you get your hair cut this weekend?” We may think we’re dressing relevance in an unassuming moment of kindness: “I loved you in the school play last night,” when really it was the story you told about your own child they never forgot.

In short, what we think makes the difference often doesn’t, and what we least expect creates a lasting impression. Yet, it isn’t until long after they’ve left our classrooms that time and experience cast those times anew and they fathom your impact. We can believe this because we’ve all had those teachers who have given us perspective when we most needed it and least knew how much. By the time we realized it, the day to appreciate or thank was already in the rearview mirror.

So, during the week of appreciation last week, I hope your inboxes were flooded with the unsent messages of all those days where your slightest move made an enduring impression.

 
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